Monday, 16 December 2019

Right Wing Purity Culture

In a recent conversation I had with him, Carl Benjamin says:
I am honestly of the opinion that the right doesn't have this kind of purity culture, and that's definitely to their advantage. I'm not saying it doesn't ever exist or anything, but as a general rule, the right is less puritanical in this regard. 
This is in reference to the proclivity towards a highly doctrinaire and manichean world view that one often encounters in hard left circles, both in current year and throughout its history. Indeed, the decision of myself and my fellow Facebook page moderators to even have a conversation at all with the dreaded Sargon of Akkad would no doubt face heavy denouncement in typical left wing circles. And not "I disagree with Sargon on the following issues ... " but rather a "How dare you even think of speaking to so someone so racist, fascist, ignorant, stupid etc" kind of response.

Were they to discover that I found Mr. Benjamin to be a reasonable and cordial fellow with whom I would have some ideological disagreements as well as some areas of overlapping concern, that'd be treated as nothing short of blasphemy. And this includes many of the sorts of leftists who advocate a retreat from identity politics in favor of more class struggle. Get the pitchforks and light the burning pyre. We have a witch here. Conversing directly with demons, no less.

I was a youthful target of the Satanic Panic in the late 1980s, so it wouldn't be the first time.

While I realize that Sargon has his detractors and those who've claimed to have had bad experiences with him, that doesn't involve myself and my fellows who took part in the discussion. I felt I'd get that out of the way, because I know what the comments are going to say where ever I post this. You have a problem with Sargon, take it up with him. I'm no one's attack dog, and I'm not getting involved in YouTube drama.

With that all said, I did not follow up with Sargon on this idea of there being far less of a purity culture on the right, but upon reflection, I don't really agree. I suspect it looks that way because the purity culture on the right manifests itself differently from the one on the left. But that doesn't mean it's not there. It comes down to this:

The left's main concerns are with oppression, exploitation and discrimination. And that's perfectly reasonable. But progressives are vulnerable to the idea that any deviation from the established party line on any given issue will inevitably open the door to and enable, if not outrightly perpetuate, oppressive treatment of marginalized peoples. As such, rather like a religious fundamentalist who fears that the edifice of his religion will collapse if any element of the canon is called into question, unquestioning obedience to established orthodoxies is demanded on much of the left wing. Marxist Leninism, feminist theory, critical race theory and queer theory are almost unequivocal on this. These doctrines are the maps and blueprints that one must follow - to the letter - if a just society is to be achieved.

The right's main concerns are with degradation and loss of cultural and economic vitality, and that this would be bad because those things contribute to the strength and health of the polity. Again, well and good. But this likewise lends itself to conservatives fearing that any attempt to reform culture, politics or economy in a way to make them more inclusive or to provide a safety net for those in need will end up enabling behaviors and activities that cause a dilution of both personal morality and relationships that uphold the integrity of society. Right wing theories: neoreaction, libertarianism, white nationalism and religious fundamentalism are all underwritten by this kind of fear. A "camel's nose, once in the tent, the body is sure to follow" kind of mindset prevails in any discussion of either regulating the free market economy, or becoming more permissive regarding social norms and mores. Integrating between the races will dilute the purity of whichever race is superior. Allowing religious pluralism will cause the one true faith revealed by God to be diluted or lost, etc. You get the picture.

The contrasting concerns of social justice and social protectionism result in the respective purity cults of the left and right manifesting in different ways. The purity cult of the left is decidedly ostentatious and demonstrative, in keeping with the nature of the leftist narrative as themselves as some kind of last ditched resistance effort against an encroaching fascist tyranny. Convinced of the powerlessness of the purported targets of this tyranny, stark raving terror actually becomes a "reasonable" result. It's more visible because protest and civil disobedience are much more front and center in leftist theory.

The cringe factor here comes from the fact that Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, while having politics vastly different than mine, are not quite what the hysterical left echo chambers make them out to be. Accusing these men of wanting to "erase" marginalized peoples or believing that women, people of color, LGBTQ people and others "should not exist" actually pushes them beyond being "literally Hitler" and makes them out to be something out of the darkest of speculative fiction, like the wicked Emperor Palpatine or the Dark Lord Sauron. It need not be said that this is hyperbole, not reality.

The purity cult on the right is harder to see because it's less ostentatious. For one thing, the individualism espoused by the right makes them far less likely to organize and protest, and when they do, their predilection for order and personal discipline makes these protests far less rowdy and prone to acts of hysteria. But they do happen, as Tea Party protests against Obama's attempts to bring in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act demonstrate.

More significantly, however, the right's belief in the underlying unity of strength and virtue lends itself to the right wing purity cult expressing itself in displays of strength, not weakness. Thus, rightist denounciation of leftists has about it a definite macho swagger. Hence its denunciations of leftists as snowflakes, cucks, degenerates, too stupid to learn about economics, etc. While the right attacks communism in some of the same terms that the left attacks fascism: condemning its historical brutality and totalitarianism, and the same kind of cringy comparisons of leftist figures like Bernie Sanders with historical tyrants like Josef Stalin as exist on the left comparing Trump to Hitler etc, the right tends to express contempt at the notion that such manly men as themselves would ever need a social safety net or protection from being exploited as a worker, consumer or investor. A crucial difference, perhaps the definitive difference, between left and right.

For the right, the answer is always very simple. Find another job. Start your own business. Don't do stupid stuff. Don't get sick or injured. Be Superman. Predict the future with pure accuracy. Were you as manly as themselves, you wouldn't need no namby-pamby social safety net, union representation or government regulations to protect you from hardship and exploitation. Well, too bad for them that actual human beings in the real world are not made of such stern stuff.

This isn't to say there isn't a place for conservative or libertarian questioning of leftist policy proposals. Sometimes they really are untenable. But the problems arise when pressed for specifics, the rightists resort to their own brand of emotionalism as opposed to reasoned argument. You're too degenerate, cucked, stupid to understand economics, etc. And then they'll go on to sneer the ironically labeled "tolerant" left. Such self awareness.

Much of the US right's entire ideological shtick lies in a constant onslaught of propaganda saying that any government interference in the economy at all is basically tantamount to socialism. Distinction is not made between the light interventions of neoliberals a-la Tony Blair or Bill Clinton, the more heavy interventions advocated by Keynesians, welfare liberals, new dealers and social democrats - think Roosevelt or Attlee, the far reaching but incomplete control advocated by democratic socialists or regimes like Allende's Chile or Chavez's Venezuela and the total control practiced by Stalin and Mao. And where would they stand on small government or even stateless models advanced by some kinds of leftists: anarcho communism/syndicalism, mutualism or the like? These are obviously enormous theoretical differences and yield very different outcomes, but you'd never guess that by reading conservative sources or the responses that right leaning people make in any kind of social media platform, in their own attempts to deplatform their political opponents by implying that they are weak, stupid or degenerate.

Well, you know what? If your precious free market is so fragile that it will collapse if any attempt is made to tinker with it, perhaps it's not that strong either, and maybe libertarians descend into being their own brand of hysterical SJWs for claiming taxation is theft or that regulations stopping them from dumping their pollution into the water or the air as they please constitute a lighter, softer form of the boot of socialism. A sort of economic microaggression, if you will. And notice how triggered they get when you tell them there are sound economic, political and social reasons for taxation and public spending. It's like you're "Marxsplaining" or "Keynesplaining" their oppression to them.

Poor guys.

If you can slow down anything recorded by Ben Shapiro to a pace at which it becomes intelligible, the whole idea being advanced is pretty straight forward. And it's the same with Turning Point and a host of other conservative ideological sources. Bernie Sanders = Joseph Stalin. Obama's America = Hugo Chavez's Venezuela.  Obamacare = Stalinist collectivization. Keynesianism and Marxism are described as being one in the same. Despite the fact that demand management policies have been part and parcel of how all of the world's most successful economies have operated at least as far back as the second world war.

Such hysterical and stupid phrases are not being shrieked aloud for all to hear by outraged women and college students taking to the streets, but they are no less hysterical and stupid for that difference. Any government intervention in the economy, any provision of social welfare, any protection of workers rights reveals a "lack of understanding of economics" and surely won't work despite the fact they have been working for decades now across the developed world. All presented by some wannabe tough guy whose macho swagger implying that he can beat you up so that makes his views correct. This looks different than the SJW's displays of emotional hysteria and terror at even the most tepid step away from his ancap or intersectioal feminist dogmas, but does not alter the fact that, at heart, it's the same thing.

An ideological purity cult.

Besides, there's plenty of precedent for very real and dangerous ideological purity regimens on the right: the various red scares, McCarthyism, the Satanic Panic, to name a few. If the right wing has done it before, why should I think they won't do it again? There's enough love for the likes of Augusto Pinochet among hard line libertarians and reactionaries these days for them to most certainly not have my trust. Perhaps they'd be amenable to a deal, wherein I won't send them to a gulag if they don't throw me out of a helicopter, assuming either of us ever had the chance. But I'm not holding my breath.

Not all right wingers are Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer Warriors or the like, some of you might say. Fine. Some of you are no doubt thinking "straw man" to everything I've said here. Fair enough. Some more conservative leaning people are reasonable, as my discussion with Sargon exemplified. But not all leftists are Antifa either. Rightists get annoyed whenever they're hysterically tarred as racists, nazis, misogynists and the like by the left. Okay, fair enough. Then don't tar the whole of the left as either violent ancom or tankie nutjobs or hysterical feminists with obvious mental health issues either. The right warns the left that its irrationality will drive more people to the right. Fair warning, but that's a two way street. At some point, after being called a cuck and offered enough helicopter rides, more people might start wondering if there's maybe something in Karl Marx's library that these right wingers and their paranoid cries of "cultural Marxism" don't want them to know, and the Streisand Effect takes hold from there.

Listen to myself and my fellow alt-left mods converse with Sargon of Akkad and the Secretary of Akkad here.

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Saturday, 14 December 2019

Dear fellow leftists, Can we please stop being the incels of the political world?

December 12, 2019 will not be a day fondly remembered by the UK Labour party. The results were horrid. Dismal. The worst election results since the 1930s, apparently. A mere 202 seats, according to wikipedia, as against the 365 gained by the Conservatives. A loss of 60 seats for Labour, a gain of 48 for the Conservatives. Some of these in seats that Labour has had for decades, or that have never voted Conservative previously. Mainly in the northern portions of England.


I can't blame Labour and its supporters for being sore about this. Who wouldn't be? Nobody likes taking this kind of a trouncing. In politics or in any area of human endeavor.

However, responses from the hard left portion of Labour's base go well beyond the normal and expected response of licking one's wounds, trying to figure out what went wrong and going back to the drawing board, as it were.

What's the Definition of Insanity?
"Not my Prime Minister: Resist Racist Johnson" reads an event posted on Facebook, calling for a protest on Downing Street the following day, Dec 13. "Boris Johnson is a racist, bigot and homophobe. He doesn't represent multicultural Britain. He has called Muslim women 'letter boxes', called black people 'piccaninnies with watermelon smiles' and LGBT people 'bum boys'.  We can not have him as Prime Minister for the next 5 years. Let's meet the first day of his new term with protests at Downing Street," reads the event description.

And protest they did. "Two people were arrested as hundreds of protesters descended on Downing Street to "defy Tory rule" after Boris Johnson's election victory," reads this Evening Standard headline. As you might expect, this did not go well. "One witness said Whitehall had "descended into chaos" the story claims, and reports on such activities as "Protesters hammered on a bus trapped in the cordon and shouted “free the bus” and “this is our bus”, before chanting the children’s song The Wheels On The Bus." "A handful linked arms briefly to block the exit to the bus while shouting “whose bus, our bus”.

"Visibly frustrated passengers on board were eventually allowed to leave, while protesters tried to board and remonstrated with police amid demands to “free the driver."

Social media is likewise lit up with angry sentiment. Look up #NotMyPrimeMinister on twitter and you'll fast see what I mean. Tweets express dismay over the future of the NHS (National Health Service), opposition to austerity, cuts and privatization and depicting photos and footage from the abovementioned Downing Street protests.

And The Guardian, always the stalwart of good, rational journalism that it is, recently ran this headline: "Britain needs its own Mueller report on Russian ‘interference."

Is any of this sounding familiar? Does it remind you of anything?

Yes, of course. Trump's 2016 victory in the US. Well now we can cue the same kind of ongoing protest and outrage in the left leaning press in the UK. Some of it sensible and justified, but just as much of it hysterical and stupid. And there are, of course, the usual condemnations of working class voters who opted for the Tories as "stupid" and ignorant of their own class interests.

Can we on the left please stop this?

We are embarrassing ourselves. A headline in the Daily Express perhaps puts it best: "Election protests against Boris branded 'pathetic' and 'disgusting' - 'THEY are fascist!' ANTI-Boris Johnson activists have been slammed for being "disrespectful" and "arrogant" after protests erupted across the country against the Tories' landslide election majority."


"Utter cretins. You have the right to protest. But not the right to stampede into London, disrupt everyone, be unruly and vile, if you do, you can f***ing do one. I just can't stand their level of sanctimonious arrogance. They lost, so they change to balaclavas and smoke and aggression because they think they're right and perfect etc."

Others pointed out the protests by "pathetic middle class kids" helped "persuade the so called Labour heartlands that they want nothing to do with you."

I can't say I disagree.

I'm not saying that we can not and should not protest Johnson or Trump when warranted. I'm not saying that Labour, like the Democrats, should not act as the official opposition to the governing party. They're called the "official" opposition for a reason, after all. A key feature of liberal democracy is the right of its citizenry to protest, challenge and criticize the government in power. This provides a check on the power and excesses of the government, keeps them on their toes and motivates them to perform well. At least in theory. Nothing wrong with that.

Moreover, I'm not especially happy about Johnson's victory myself. I'm an avowed social democrat who occasionally flirts with outrightly socialist ideas. The UK Labour party would be my natural home were I a Brit, despite my disagreements with them on some other issues - immigration, identity politics, diversity for diversity's sake, most feminism etc - and my overall disdain for the romanticist culture of protest and revolution for its own sake that tends to pervade much of the western activist left.

Thing is, Labour's defeat here was much less a repudiation of social democracy and much more an expression of exasperation with the long, drawn out process of Brexit. Labour promised a softer deal and another referendum to get the voter's stamp of approval. The Tories, conversely, ran on the slogan of "Get Brexit done." Since a lot of brexiteers were in these more northern, traditionally Labour districts, this put Labour in a very difficult, maybe even impossible position. Hardly what I'd call an endorsement of fascism and racism. In hindsight, the outcome was quite predictable.

What I'm asking is for the left to stop being the political equivalent to that "nice guy" we've all known who whines and moans about how women won't date him because he's too nice. Now we call guys like that incels, and oddly enough, leftists don't like these sorts of fellows much. And with some reason. While it may be objectively true that the women in question would be better off dating nice men as opposed to abusive ones, it's also true that the choice is not the "nice" guy's to make. Incels who whine about women who won't date them come across as entitled. The women chose some other guy. The thing to do is some self reflection and try to figure out why the women made the choices they did so that the incel can make the necessary corrections and hopefully achieve a different result down the road.

The same dynamic applies here. It seems absurd that I should have to point out that if you call the working class stupid, ignorant and racist, they're not going to like you or support your cause any. These kinds of leftists become the incels of the political world. Not involuntarily celibate, but involuntarily out of power. And for many of the same reasons. Their sense of entitlement stands in for a lack of effort to woo the objects of their affection, and they wear their resentment at the predictable and inevitable outcome on their sleeves.

Boris Johnson and the Conservatives won a clean election fair and square. I hate to have to be the one to tell you this if you're a lefty Brit in the mold of Momentum or the Socialist Worker or whatever, but yeah, Boris Johnson is your prime minister. Your feelings on the matter don't override the laws of your land and the fundamental premise of democracy. Certainly you're allowed to disagree with Tory policy. You're allowed to protest it. You're allowed to join Labour, the Lib-Dems or whomever and put your own two-cents worth into the division of an alternate policy agenda.

But please do so intelligently and in a manner that respects the democratic process and the will of the electorate. Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Donald Trump is the President of the United States. And, in the interests of fairness, Justin Trudeau is the Prime Minister of Canada, regardless of what rightist voters in Canada's more conservative western provinces may happen to think - and take it from me, they don't think highly of it and are doing no shortage of whining themselves. So this isn't just a leftist thing, but the left should be better than this. If you claim to be for "the people" then the place to start is to respect their will, respect their right to self determination, respect their right to make up their own minds on issues while simultaneously trying to persuade them of the benefits of following a more social democratic as opposed to a more conservative political approach. Calling them stupid and racist probably isn't a good strategy. Just a thought. There can't be social democracy without the democracy, after all.

Please, let's stop being the incels of the political world.

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Thursday, 10 October 2019

Jokers of the World, Unite!

Not quite what Marx had in mind, but it's a start
Put on a happy face, comrades! We finally have our parable for the times we live in. Or do we? Is Joker our movie?

- Spoilers ahead, so stop here if you don't want me to ruin the surprise for you -

First off, Joker isn't a typical DC universe film, that's for certain. It's style and ambiance strongly recalls the works of Martin Scorsese from the late 1970s and early 80s - think Taxi Driver or The King of Comedy. Thematically, it's much more Fight Club, Falling Down or American Psycho in their explorations of the alienated male psyche than any of the raft of recent superhero films. It's themes are not new. Hell, you could trace them all the way back to Dostoevsky's Underground Man or Victor Hugo's Jean Valjean, if you felt so inclined. Fans looking for a showdown between Batman and the Joker will be disappointed. We see only a bit of Bruce Wayne, and then only as a child.

So with that out of the way, themes of class warfare do permeate the film. Sanitation workers are on strike, and presumably have been for some time. Government by and for the wealthy results in cut backs for the most vulnerable people across the board. "The system doesn't give a shit about people like you" Arthur's black female caseworker tells him, after advising him that he's been cut off of benefits. "It doesn't give a shit about people like me either."


And it shows. Gotham City - which is little more than New York in the early 1980s renamed - is in a wretched state of decay. We're shown people living in conditions scarcely fit for animals. Roving gangs of thugs and giant rats rule filthy and dilapidated streets. Corporate snobs such as the three goons that Arthur Fleck guns down harass and bully those less fortunate than themselves. Following Arthur's retaliation, he becomes a sort of symbol of Gotham City's frustration with out of touch elites, and clown-masked demonstrators begin protesting and rioting. Can you really blame them?

Much ado has been made about this film. Right and "left" alike have criticized its apparent wanton violence, and suggest it legitimizes white male incel rage, or something like that. It's defenders claim it's a genuinely revolutionary manifesto. The film of the rising tide of class realism long overdue.

It's neither of these. Not quite.

It's important to remember that Fleck ultimately becomes a comic book villain, not a revolutionary. In this film, he is completely marginalized, with only his mentally ill mother for companionship. He deals with conniving and backstabbing coworkers in his part time McJob as a party clown. His boss blames him for the loss of a sign after he gets beaten up by thugs, and deducts its cost from his pay, which we can safely assume isn't anything to write home about. He becomes the butt of the jokes of a popular late night television show host. His relationship with a young woman who's his neighbor turns out to all be in his head. It's hard not to feel sorry for the poor fella. Those who don't, because he's poor, mentally ill or because he's a white male, are showing their true colors here. Yet he does end up committing very real acts of brutality and violence, and this is not valorized in any way.

He's no revolutionary, nor the criminal mastermind we're familiar with. Not in this film leastwise. Arthur Fleck doesn't really become somebody until he guns down three goons on a subway, who turn out to be Wayne Enterprises employees. This sparks an uprising of rioters and protesters in clown masks, matching Fleck's own makeup. However, the rage we see is that of an alienated and nihilistic mob with a base of legitimate grievances but no means of channeling that rage into effective political action. We're not seeing V for Vendetta here. The rioters wear clown masks, not Guy Fawkes masks. This is very telling. They do not march on the halls of power, but riot in and destroy their own neighborhoods. Don't believe the hype: nihilism, not socialism nor white male resentment is the guiding outlook here. Fleck himself has zero political or social consciousness. "Kill the rich" has its superficial appeal, but will accomplish nothing even were it followed through on. "Challenge the productive relations that give rise to huge wealth disparities." That's harder and takes more work, and admittedly doesn't have the same ring to it.

For their part, the "leftists" who caterwaul about incels, white male rage and entitlement are as much a part of the fiddling while Rome burns classes as Thomas Wayne is. And Fleck's most poignant question "What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash?" is as much for them as it is for Wall Street. As if there was any appreciable difference at this point. If the reviews this film received in much of the mainstream press are any indication, they've missed the point completely. If white males who've been dispossessed by social and economic changes wrought by neoliberalism turn to reactionary ideologies or outright nihilism because the so called progressives offer them only guilt and shame over their identity, well, they get what they f**king deserve, don't they?

Truer Words ...
Joker is a class conscious film, but it's no manifesto. And it shouldn't be. Agitprop is boring. But it is a stern warning. Ignore class disparities at your peril, because the Jokers of this world aren't going away. What's more, they may just end up getting a real revolutionary ideology and seriously organizing, not with rich people per-se but with the corrupt and abusive productive relations of capitalism itself firmly in its crosshairs.

That would be something to truly put on a happy face about.

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Tuesday, 24 September 2019

TERFs: Executed via Circular Firing Squad

"Under Thatcher and then Blair and continuing up until our contemporary moment, the working class has seen its culture slowly and progressively destroyed," Deirdre O'Neill writes in this Medium article, and she's not happy about it. I can't say I blame her so far. I'm not happy about it either.
One of the consequences of the massive changes that have taken place in working class life over the last forty years of neo liberalism has been the erasure of class-consciousness and the loss of the language of class as an analytical framework within which to articulate and make sense of those changes.
Couldn't agree more. The article gives an account of how the left abandoned material, working class concerns in favor of cultural and identity based issues of greater concern to a careerist academic middle class that is generally accurate. It's also worth noting, however, that there was not, for a time, much choice of which way the leftist parties of the developed world should go. This was a long, painful and complicated process, so it's worth going over it again, in point form:
  • Disillusion with Marxian socialism and materialism setting in on the post WW2 left, as the tyrannical nature of Stalin's U.S.S.R becomes known.
  • The emergence of critical theory and the new left. The third world abroad and minorities at home are cast in the role once reserved for the industrial proletariat.
  • The increasingly international business environment leading to what we came to call globalization. Mid to low skill level jobs that depended on union representation and a sophisticated regulatory welfare state to maintain a middle class lifestyle were among the first to be lost to the third world.
  • Automation also proceeded apace in this time.
  • Resulting in a decline in the political clout exercised by the unionized blue collar working class, itself became more conservative as a result of attaining a middle class level of existence after WW2. 
  • These factors allowed the likes of Reagan and Thatcher to come to power in the US and UK, and they adopted policies that further weakened the power of organized labor. 
  • Leftist governments such as those of François Mitterrand in France were forced to backpedal on social democratic reform due to the threat of capital flight and investment strike, which were becoming bigger clubs in the hands of the rich and powerful, and this trend would only increase into the internet age.
  • Corporate media would lay the blame for this investment strike and capital flight on the flawed and anachronistic ideologies of the center left parties, and whip up popular backlash against social democratic ideas. Electorates now do corporate power's dirty work for it, urging leftist parties to get with the program and enact business friendly neoliberal policies, and in so doing giving those neoliberal policies a thin but very useful veneer of democratic legitimacy. 
  • Communism unraveling in the U.S.S.R and its satellites, and the People's Republic of China embracing market reforms, discrediting socialism in the mainstream.
  • New social movements emphasizing identity gradually becoming more mainstream in the late 20th century.
  • Declining birth rates resulting in western governments relying on increased levels of immigration to top up population growth.
  • Large numbers of women, people of color and immigrants entering the workforce swelling its numbers, further weakening labor's bargaining power, but also serving as a new basis of support for center left political parties.
  • The shift to a more managerial role in the global economy results in increased emphasis on higher education in the western world as the key to a middle class lifestyle, while blue collar labor declines. A university degree, once the pedigree of the upper crust, now becomes the mainstay of the middle class.
  • Concomitant with this is the identity based new social movements finding their stronghold in academia, concluding a long shift away from economics and towards culture in a western left disillusioned with the obvious flaws and failings of the so-called communist world.
  • Abandoned by the "left", the working class becomes vulnerable to political exploitation from the right, which appeals to their resentments towards cultural elites but shifts their anger towards scapegoats - immigrants, minorities and the like, to gain their votes. Once in office, the right then abandons cultural populism in favor of economic neoliberalism. 
The upshot of all of this is that the leftist political parties of the first world shifted from the unionized blue collar working class to educated cosmopolitan urban knowledge workers as their basis of support, and they really didn't have much choice if they wanted to stay relevant in electoral politics. From the early 1980s onward, it simply wasn't possible to win an election on a socialist or social democratic platform in most developed nations. It's as simple as that. Sorry. I don't like it either, but that's the way it was, and in many places continues to be. Social democracy is struggling world wide, with few exceptions. One of these exceptions being, of all places, the USA, where Bernie Sanders has galvanized considerable support for a social democratic platform. 

Did the moneyed classes capitalize on their newfound advantages over the working class? Certainly. But was it all part of a conspiracy to destroy the working class right from the get go? I doubt it. In a way, that's really the damning thing about capitalism. It's destructiveness is so unintentional. Capital follows the path of least resistance and maximal profit by its nature. Conspiracy is not only unnecessary, but often counterproductive.

Which brings us to the second thrust of Deirdre's article, summed up in this passage:
In the light of this its difficult not to consider the rapid rise of transgender ideology and its concomitant activism enthusiastically embraced by the middle class left, to be connected to the dismantling of radical politics over the last 40 years and the demoralization and feelings of defeat it has engendered.
From here, the article veers into "TERF" or trans-exclusionary radical feminist territory. While I sympathize with some if its criticisms of "transgender ideology" the problem I see with the older 2nd wave TERF brand of radical / socialist feminism is that they opened the door to all of the metapolitical tactics that the transgender ideologues are now using on them. That the intersectional transgender movement would upset the TERFs has more than a whiff of karmic justice to it. The transgender activists have not only beaten the TERFs at their own game, they've beaten the TERFs at the very game the TERFs wrote the rules for.

That's gotta hurt.

Let's take a closer look.
Transgender activism has presented the privileged with an opportunity to ignore questions of class inequality while at the same time allowing some the opportunity to perform a superficial radicalism and progressiveness.
This was radical feminism from the 1960s onwards. Shooting down the romantic overtures of the male of the species took on the moral and cultural gravitas of a revolutionary act against tyrannical power in the ego drenched minds of pseudo intellectual women and their male lapdogs from the 1980s onwards, at least as far as most mainstream media was concerned. A lot easier than unionizing the local supermarket, I suppose. If society is going to legitimize any demographic's favorite activity as an act of glorified transgression against supposedly illegitimate power structures, who wouldn't jump at the chance if it was their group that would be so privileged?
The transgender movement demands a rejection of biological reality. There is something very terrifyingly fragile about our commitment to reasoned debate if we can so nonchalantly cast aside facts such as our biological constitution.
TERFs were looking on much of gender as being no more than a social construct going back to the 1960s. Many such feminists went as far as to claim that heterosexuality itself was little more than a creation of the patriarchy designed to objectify and oppress women, and would dismiss all arguments to the contrary appealing to evolution and biology as mere apologetics for male power and privilege.

Funny how it's okay to handwave realities we don't like when we're the ones in the privileged position of being able to call others out on their privilege. When it's us who are supposedly privileged, that's when it's different. That's when the Anita Sarkeesians of this world suddenly start understanding where the Carl Benjamins of this world have been coming from all this time.
There has been a glaring refusal on the part of the left to come to terms with the question of transgenderism and its impact on women and by women I mean people who belong to the sex class that has ovaries and is able to give birth.
There has been a glaring refusal on the part of the left to come to terms with the twin and intersecting questions of feminism and neoliberalism and their impact on men and by men I mean people who belong to the sex that has testicles and are able to impregnate women. A "left" consisting of a bunch of infighting identity based movements drawing their lines of concern only up to the point where their own "marginalized" identities can be deployed for political and social advantage is not a left that can successfully push back against global neoliberal hegemony.
The levels of groupthink necessary to keep this ship afloat, the self censorship, the intimidation, the blatant dishonesty, the denial of debate with howls of ‘transphobia’ point to a left in deep crisis.
You don't say! Just replace howls of transphobia with howls of racism and howls of misogyny and I think you get the picture. Back in the 1990s, liberal feminists along the lines of Christina Hoff Sommers, Camille Paglia and Cathy Young were describing the radical feminist women's studies classrooms in very similar terms. You can guess how well they were, and continue to be, received in feminist circles.

Are we starting to notice a pattern here?
The middle class dominated left has abandoned its obligation to critically engage, to clarify and to lead on the political issues of the day. Instead it has simply accepted the terms of the debate put forward by the trans militants (including their really basic conflation of sex and gender). This failure is rooted in the left’s acceptance of identity politics with its assumption that how a group (or the primary definers within a group) articulates its oppression is the last word in the matter.
This is called Standpoint theory and was a central element in radical feminist ideology almost right from its inception, and the source of much of its authoritarian and antinomian character. Implicitly up into the 1980s, explicitly since then.  Related to this is the notion of a vanguard party or movement taking it upon itself to define who is and isn't part of the charmed circle they've taken it upon themselves to represent, and decide unilaterally what the group's interests are, on behalf of the entire group. This has been standard practice on the regressive authoritarian left going all the way back to Lenin.

The decision of liberal academia to acquiesce to the demands of the standpoint feminists and deligitimize any and all criticism of women's studies as misogyny, criticism of critical race theory/black studies as racism and so on has been a dagger to the heart of every good and noble aspiration that the political left has had over the last several decades. Centuries even. The damage that this has done has been absolutely incalculable. At the very least, it's laid the foundations for all of the excesses of current year SJW culture. And it wasn't done to appease the transgender activists. It was done to appease the second wave feminists in academia during the 1970s and 80s.
The closing down of the complexities of this discussion with the mantra ‘transwomen are women’ is profoundly undemocratic. In a properly functioning democracy the concerns of everyone would be included in an open and transparent discussion.
The concerns of everyone would be included in an open, transparent discussion? Would this include men's rights activists, typically brushed off as misogynists? Would this include that segment of the working class opposed to high levels of immigration, typically handwaved as racists? Would this include feminists who are not women of color? Typically brushed off as white feminists? Would this include cisgender heterosexual black males, sometimes brushed off as "hoteps" or as "the white people of black people?" Would this include white cisgender homosexual males, who are branded as misogynistic for doing exactly what TERFs think white cisgender females should be doing: rejecting the opposite sex for sexual and romantic partnership? Does it include the white male class conscious working class, the "brocialists" so called?  Does it include the original alt-left; race conscious white socialists? We wouldn't want to leave anybody out now, would we?

I think we all know what Deirdre's answer to all of those questions would be.

While I agree that stratifying people in accordance to how "marginalized" they are is incredibly counterproductive and completely contrary to the notions of inclusivity and equality that the social justice crowd so loves to pay lip service to, once again we can hardly lay the blame for this at the feet of the recent wave of transgender activism. Welcome to the world non-black, non-women and non-queer leftists have been living in ever since the summer of love, Deirdre. I'm pretty sure I can guess your response. Some sort of sneer about really giving a shit about the privileged class. Well then, forgive me if I don't give a shit about whatever frustrations you've suffered at the hands of the transgender activists. So much for solidarity, or an injury to one being an injury to all, I guess.
Instead, critical thinking is relabeled ‘transphobia’, even basic facts are now apparently a sign of Trump leaning tendencies (thereby ensuring that the Right will own this issue, because the left cannot sensibly discuss it). Rather than fighting for us all to transition to a fairer more equal society, the social justice warriors focus on the right of men to adopt the stereotypes that most women have long ago rejected.
Once again, this pandora's box was flung open by the 1960s and 70s wave of radical feminism, and this now apparent sense of indignity and having been cheated by transgender activists utilizing all the same methods reveals just how arrogant and bloated with a sense of entitlement feminism's 2nd wave really was. Who decided what "stereotypes" were "outdated" and that any defense of traditional notions of femininity and masculinity, even if voluntarily adopted instead of socially mandated - was indicative of far right politicial leaning? What are we to make of women who are frustrated with being shamed out of activities deemed too traditionally feminine, such as being stay at home moms, getting married or having romantic relationships with men? Your frustration with being silenced by transgender activists is understandable, Deirdre, but what about all the people who had to be silenced so that your brand of misandrist radical feminism could become hegemonic in academia and most media?

Contrary to current year perspectives, the academy of the mid 1970s onward wasn't some stronghold of ideological pluralism and sexual license that we've only very recently lost. Rather, it was the anti heterosex radical feminists who had seized the commanding heights of politically correct discussion, and they were saying to male liberals all the same things this article accuses transgender activists of saying to TERFs. A decade prior, the 2nd wave radfems had done the same thing to the 1960s new left. When the male radicals of the time accused the feminists of distracting from and derailing class based politics, I'm sure we can all guess how sympathetic the radfems of the time were.

Welcome to the Revolution
Hell, it may not even have really begun there. The new left had supplanted the old by sidelining the blue collar proletariat in favor of the third world and ethnic minorities. The old left had supplanted the classical liberals by sidelining the property owning bourgeoisie in favor of the industrial workers, the classical liberals sidelined the aristocracy and the clergy, and so on. With but little exaggeration, we can trace this back all the way to the signing of the Magna Carta.

All of this points to the fatal flaw at the heart of the direction the left has gone in almost since its inception. A politics based on the oppression olympics, so called, is doomed to fail. Sooner or later, you meet someone more oppressed than you, and the moral force with which you've been pressing your claims against those higher up the social hierarchy than yourself now compel you to yield to those pressing claims against you from below.  We need a better approach. We need a comprehensive theory of liberation applicable to all, rather than a ceaseless dialectic of oppressed and oppressor, a dialectic that promises revolution, but only seems to deliver a circular firing squad.

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Saturday, 21 September 2019

Why the Left is Winning the Culture War: Hard Right

Previously, I wrote of the common notion that the progressives were winning the culture war, a brief and by no means complete survey of reactionary thought on the matter and proposed a number of explanations for and caveats to that idea. Now, I begin to look at the deeper reasons why the right, the reactionaries especially, have a difficult time even maintaining the status quo, let alone in turning back the clock, in modern civilization.

The right wing political message is harder. By harder, I mean that right wing political thought trades in both foundational principles and policy proposals that are less likely to be widely popular. Conservatives have always been the "party of no", the party-poopers of the political scene. They claim that we cannot achieve all of our legislative goals without punishing levels of taxation and government overreach.

Central to conservative thought as far back as Edmund Burke is the notion that human nature is not fundamentally perfectible, and indeed it's an uphill battle to improve it at all. Humanity is in need of some kind of higher set of moral and philosophical principles beyond the reach of his will to power in order to keep him on the right track. Religion is often touted as the source of this.

Overall, this is a less popular message than that peddled by reformist politicians and ideologies of boundless optimism. First classical liberalism, then socialism and today feminism promise if not utopia, at least a greatly improved way of life over what we have now. This is naturally a more attractive message. It is more attractive to believe that pressing social problems can be solved, than to view them as intractable and that trying to solve them will simply squander limited and valuable resources. We feel better about the left's message of a brighter future. It flatters our egos. We don't like being told that we have a naturally debased nature that makes social progress very difficult and even dangerous.

The left has a long history of offering up ideal classes of people: the proletariat, the 3rd world, women, the poor and marginalized, who if they were just given the reins of power, would guide us into a world free of exploitation, poverty and war. Being the sober voice in a climate of excitement and enthusiasm doesn't win popularity contests. And don't expect to be exonerated in hindsight when the project truly does go awry, just as you predicted it would, either. Of course, the right does sometimes enter its own politics of fervent hope and even utopianism, but these incidences occur in spite of, rather than because of, the underlying nature of conservative thought.

It is not that the left does not posit the need to make sacrifices for the achievement of its goals. But the left tends to ask more of those who are, at least according to leftist bodies of thought, able to give up more. Moreover, leftism offers hope of societal improvement when all is said and done. The sacrifices demanded by reactionaries, on the other hand, are mainly to stop things getting worse than they already are, and more often fall on those already on the less fortunate end of the social spectrum. This is in contrast to the deeply rooted Christian ethic otherwise so much touted on at least some segments of the left, which generally extols charity and concern for the less fortunate.

It is not that right leaning people are unwilling to be charitable. But they're far more likely to balk at the encoding of charity into our political, economic and social structures in the way that leftist calls for reform advocate for. Rightism would prefer that charity be a private, individual decision, and don't like the notion that there are structural inequities and injustices in the way that wealth and resources end up being distributed. Most people know, or at least suspect how inadequate this will be in the face of the real need out there. Right wing people may sneer at how easy it is to be generous and charitable with other people's money, and that's precisely the point. It is easier. It is easier to at least advocate for redistributive taxation and social spending, even if the threat of capital flight and investment strike make those programs tricky to implement.

Up until very recently, the right was seen as the side of the prudish, the censorious and the puritanical. Say no to drugs. No sex until marriage. Abstinence only. Contraception and abortion are bad, murder even. Every sperm is sacred. Sex, drugs and rock and roll were seen as the gateway to Sodom and Gomorrah. Not among all right leaning people, but those who thought that way did lean right.

That is not the path of least resistance to which people are naturally inclined. While we can hew to very straight and narrow lifestyles in times of shortage and hardship, or else when in tight knit social environments that share the same values, once modern levels of affluence and technological development made less stringent ways of life attainable with reduced social costs, that's naturally what most people did. Who would naturally deal with the shortage and hardship of marrying young and having a mess of children once this ceased to be economically necessary or socially mandated? If there's no real reason not to enjoy sex, drugs and rock and roll once we stop believing that they'll make the baby Jesus cry and your parents, boss and neighbors won't object to it, it's easier to do so than not to, however real the very real problems of addiction and abuse are, at least for some people.

Over the last decade or so, the cultural left has introduced its own culture of austerity, with privilege checking, broadening definitions of sexual harassment and rape, speech codes, avoidance of bad words that might trigger someone with a marginalized identity, deconstruction and critique of movies, music, video games and so on for sexist and racist content and so on. This goes back a bit further on college campuses, to the late 1980s approximately. And even here, they are not so much suggesting that we "just say no" but rather that we merely get informed, enthusiastic and affirmative consent. In triplicate, and you'd better cross all the t's and dot all the i's. And still hope that no one cries rape or harassment, since the zeitgeist demands that the accuser be given the benefit of the doubt. Moreover, this new stringency doesn't seem to apply to historically "marginalized" groups: women, ethnic minorities, trans folks etc.

Still and all, this is an altogether different message than abstinence only, at least until marriage. An option that is increasingly beyond many people's price range, and not likely to be entered into until after the long period of education and preparation needed to secure the kinds of middle class jobs you can raise a family on. Whatever flaws exist in hook-up culture so called, and there are many, people will simply not revert back to the sexual morality that prevailed in agricultural societies where for all intents and purposes, you were an adult at fifteen.

So while not completely equivalent, the emergent social justice warrior (SJW) is sometimes mentioned as the leftist counterpart to the stuffy Christian conservative. Hard leftists - Marxists, Stalinists and Maoists and the like, have had a similar sort of tough mindedness, but these have never been significant even on what's considered left wing in the 1st world. What's relevant here is that the last few decades wherein second wave feminism gradually gave way to the SJWs are a wink of an eye in the face of the history of western civilization overall, wherein it has been religion and conservatism that has eschewed creature comforts in favor of stoicism and stern morality.

Moreover, reactionaries propose some genuinely harsh measures. Who is going to tell women - the majority of the population and currently united and galvanized by feminist ideology - that their place is at home, barefoot and pregnant after all? This seems like political suicide, and so not surprisingly is backed away from even by those on the right who actually do think this way. In a similar vein, it is the right wing that is proposing that worker's rights be curtailed or even done away with entirely, and employment for mid to low skill workers with little bargaining power reduced to something comparable to serfdom. It is the right wing that proposes that much of the populace lose access to health care, public education, or a social safety net in times of need. Outside the United States, these messages unsurprisingly do not resonate with working and middle class people. And conservatives within America must go to great lengths and expense to gain working class buy-in for their frankly sado-masochistic kinds of policies.

So it is that the right wing presents a harder path for individuals and societies to follow, and not always with a long term payoff to make it worthwhile, other than the suggestion that the left will lead us to a still worse place. This is a handicap for the right. As a reason for progressive dominance in the culture war, I'd say it's relevant, significant even but not central.

For one thing, the right's message of austerity doesn't always fail to resonate. While they haven't convinced most to just say no or wait for marriage, they've convinced many more, particularly in the English speaking world, that harsh cutbacks to social services, infrastructure and the like, along with weakening the power of the unions and the state to affect wages and working conditions were necessary to preserve the long term economic health of the 1st world nations.

The message resonated deeply with many of the people who had the most to lose from it, because it appealed to a sense of heroic mission and sacrifice, as well as to a sense of individualistic masculine pride. The aforementioned Robert Conquest and John O'Sullivan, they who believed leftward drift inevitable in any but explicitly right wing institutions, would have been quite surprised by the direction that Tony Blair would take the British Labour party, and how this was the rule and not the exception in social democratic parties across the western world.

In my own jurisdiction of the province of Alberta in western Canada, it's very hard to win an election if one isn't running on a platform of economic austerity. The deep cuts to social spending implemented in the 1990s by then Premier Ralph Klein make him one of the best remembered premiers in provincial history among Albertans, and they elected United Conservative leader Jason Kenney as premier in April of 2019 in the hopes that he can repeat Klein's performance.

The trick to pulling this off, though, is that a LOT of long term investment into policy institutes, think tanks, alternative media and similar kinds of capital intensive ideological infrastructure was necessary to eventually gain mainstream buy-in. Not just investment, but long term strategic thinking that boiled down the message of austerity to three to four word sound bite slogans with which a compliant media could saturation bomb the public, until massive cut backs and privatization just became common sense.

Another example: to this date, the late David Koch and his brother Charles have financed libertarian minded organizations, with highly successful online outreach and thus right-libertarianism has a notable following among post-boomer generations, particularly of white males who've been excluded from the mainstream narrative of privilege and social justice, themselves rather infamously funded by rival billionaire "philanthropists" such as George Soros. While libertarianism has been, for reasons soon to be discussed, less successful than social justice overall, it does show that the more dour nature of right wing thought is not an insurmountable weakness, provided there's sufficient resources and organization behind it. Which there often isn't, for reasons to be discussed in future installments of this series.

Another weakness of leftism is that it's ideologies are more complex and systemic. The core of right wing thought can be boiled down to the idea that some people are naturally more gifted than others, or that good and/or smart people do good and/or smart things, and so succeed. When society goes astray, it's because bad people are gaining the reins of state power and implementing redistributionist policies. These ideas can range from relatively reasonable criticisms of center left politicians to bizarre conspiracy theories implicating the Illuminati, Elders of Zion or even reptilian space aliens.  As naive as these views are, they are also simpler and easier to understand for the uninitiated.

Leftist theories, by contrast, posit deeper, more complex, abstract and systemic views of the world, and come up with their own unsettling sorts of ideological claims. Leftist explanations of poverty and steep levels of inequality are systemic and therefore not as easy to grasp. They're also easier for the right to straw-man: "leftists are just jealous of people who are better than them and want to take their wealth and resources for themselves" or similar nonsense.

Moreover, leftist claims posit their own challenges that no shortage of people would like to duck or deny. If poverty and hardship have systemic causes and could happen to anyone, does this not then place a burden of responsibility upon the polity and its citizens? Should we not be willing to pony up more in taxes to help the poor, raise the minimum wage or even be prepared to roll up our sleeves and take to the streets because, after all, the means of production aren't going to seize themselves? Is it not easier to simply suggest that the poor are just stupid and lazy and leave the tough job of managing the economy and the polity to the smart fellas willing to put in the time and effort to do it? And if they get paid a lot more money to do so, aren't they deserving of it? This isn't so easy a line of argument to refute as the left would like it to be. It's not completely and entirely untrue either.

Of course, the outcomes of this kind of thinking don't always rebound to the benefit of the right, as "woke" dominance in cultural spheres imposed by incorporated cultural institutions make clear. Cultural leftists did an effective job of organizing and strategizing in order to increase their influence in academia and the media, as any paleoconservative willing to talk about "cultural Marxism" would be only happy to tell you. The thing is, the whole "long march through the institutions" thing isn't simply a right wing conspiracy theory. There's something to it and it goes a long way towards explaining current progressive cultural dominance in cultural spheres, because the right was so poorly equipped to deal with it.

So the right's core political message is tougher overall to accept, though there's plenty of qualifications and exceptions to this. This is one reason for progressive dominance in the current culture war, but by no means the most significant one.

Continued in Part 3: Left Alone

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Friday, 6 September 2019

Why the Left is Winning the Culture War: An Introduction to and Rejection of that Fundamental Premise

I must confess here and now that listening to conservative and reactionary YouTubers is a guilty pleasure of mine. They do, believe it or not, have their admirable traits. On average they come across as more reasonable than their woke counterparts, though this is a fairly recent phenomena. It is, sadly to say, easier to have a conversation with a conservative intellectual than a leftist college activist these days. Would that the former were a bit more numerous and the later a good bit less so. Of course, reasonable leftists would be best of all.

A common lament among the more astute and honest people on the right (yes, they do exist) is the long defeat they've been waging against emergent progressive culture. A good recent example of this is a video posted to YouTube by the Heritage Foundation of a moderated panel discussion hosted by the Claremont Institute entitled America's Cold Civil War. The panelists engage in a familiar refrain: why does the strategic initiative in America's long running culture war now most certainly reside on the left?

The answers that they come up with should be familiar to anyone at all versed in conservative and reactionary thought. It's attributed mostly to the emergence of the new left in the 1960s and their capture of academia and radicalization of the democratic party shortly thereafter. This is not entirely untrue, nor even insignificant. In fact, so not insignificant is it that I've even done a blog series about it, and said series has even been cited as a "foundational text" for reform of the current year social justice movement! But enough plugging out of me. The point being is that many right wing thinkers, ranging from Patrick Buchanan to the more moderate David Brooks to conservative mainstays such as Dinesh D'Souza, Sean Hannity and just about any Fox News commenter you can name lay the blame for the current climate of moral laxity and political correctness at the feet of the new social movements that arose in the 1960s and after.

Some reactionary thinkers trace progressive dominance back much farther than that, and lay it at the feet of the enlightenment itself. This is the premise of the infamous Dark Enlightenment outlook. This being the big N neoreaction, abbreviated NRx and exemplified by thinkers such as Curtis Yarvin (aka Mencius Moldbug) and Nick Land.

Progressive triumph and concomitant civilizational decline is such a prevalent theme in neoreactionary work that it's become one of their axiomatic philosophical claims. NRx refers to the current dominance of progressive thought and values as "the Cathedral" and compare it to the dominance of the Catholic Church over medieval culture. They regard mainstream conservative political parties as little more than severely compromised and controlled opposition. A common observation they make is that "any institution not explicitly right wing will gradually drift left," a law of politics they often cite. It is one of three of Robert Conquest's laws of politics, and John O'Sullivan's first law states something very similar. Discussions of the Cathedral and the long term prospects for western civilization are common in neoreactionary spaces, and the mood is not a positive one. Democracy and egalitarianism have triumphed, in their view, and civilization is doomed now that the riffraff are at the helm.

It's interesting to note that neoreaction's criticism of the enlightenment and its views on left wing cultural hegemony place them in a curious and ironic kind of kinship with the very "cultural Marxists" they're otherwise so critical of: the Frankfurt School, the French post-structuralists and even Italian communist leader Antonio Gramsci's theories of cultural hegemony. This blog features a discussion of neoreaction as actually being the right's embrace of postmodernism.

Neoreactionary thinkers have spawned an entire underground of bloggers and YouTube commentators. One notable neoreactionary YouTuber who tackles these questions frequently is a trad-Catholic who calls himself The Distributist. I mention him specifically because he's put out some very deep and thought provoking material on this subject that would be well worth looking at. This includes a multi-video series asking What's Wrong with the Alt-Right, a near two hour long video (combining several shorter episodes) on Resisting Progressive Institutions, a video called Sargon, storytelling, Patreon, and power (why the left is winning the culture war) - the name says it all, and a noteworthy video discussing the left as being antifragile. The Distributist is by no means alone in holding these views, but is noteworthy because he articulates them especially well, and his videos are worth a watch if a long view, as in a civilizational level view of the ongoing culture war interests you.

And of course, no discussion of this subject would be complete without a mention of the brilliant Decline of the West, opus of the German philosopher of history Oswald Spengler, published in two parts, one in 1918 and one in 1921. Spengler's influence on reactionary thought would be hard to understate. Basically, he proposes that civilizations go through life-cycles, and he uses seasonal cycles as a kind of metaphor to outline this. Spengler calls western civilization "Faustian" and that its primary cultural motif or "ur-symbol" is a striving for an unattainable infinity, thus lending it a tragic character. The premise of the work is that Faustian civilization is entering its "winter" phase.

This phase is marked by a rise in materialism and primarily economic and world-power concerns and a concomitant loss of connection to its foundational culture. For Spengler, ideas we would term "progressive" - democracy, emphasis on economics, secularism and the like, exemplify the decoupling of civilization from the culture that initially galvanized it. While deep and thought provoking, Decline of the West is a very ponderous and dense work. Spengler's core ideas are also outlined in this 63 video series outlining the work. Yes, 63 videos, and I would recommend you watch them all. I would name only Karl Marx as a thinker that's been more influential to me personally long term than Oswald Spengler.

I would not necessarily call Spengler a reactionary, and in some ways he had an influence on the eventual emergence of the cultural relativism that today's right so despises. This is because he doesn't believe that a culture or civilization can be rightly understood in the terms established by another culture or civilization. Moreover, he doesn't seem to think that civilizational decline can even be reversed. Attempts to recapture lost glory are part-and-parcel of what the decline, or winter phase is all about. In short, reactionary thinking is a symptom of, rather than an antidote to, civilizational decline.

Moreover, his analysis of western civilization seems to make a progressive orientation practically inherent to its very nature. For Spengler, Faustian civilization is a "historical" as opposed to an "ahistorical" civilization. Historical civilizations see themselves as having a wider sense of involvement in the unfolding direction taken by the human race as a whole, and mark the passage of time and significant events in the civilization's history. This naturally lends itself to a progressive as opposed to a conservative or reactionary view. This underlies much of Spengler's apparent pessimism concerning western civilizational decline.

While Spengler's work was generally regarded as reactionary - he considered "blood" the only force capable of overthrowing the power of money (though he does conceive of race in very different terms than the Nazis and fascists did, and was therefore critical of them) - he did attract some progressive and even radical attention. Frankfurt theorist Theodore Adorno published an analysis of Decline in 1950, which while frequently critical, also hoped that Spengler's reactionary ideas could be turned towards progressive ends. Adorno is a man after my heart, it would seem.

Pessimism pervades classical conservative and neoreactionary thought on cultural matters. Leftism has triumphed, and there's nothing for it now except to observe the long descent into destructive anarchy, from which a culture rooted in strong and sustainable cultural and social norms may eventually reemerge. Or not. According to the reactionary narrative, liberal social norms lead to falling birth rates, which cast the economic and even military advantage of the west into long term doubt, or else necessitate high levels of immigration from nations with very different cultural traditions. Cultural traditions not afflicted by the postmodern malaise and atomistic individualism of the west. It is only a matter of time, therefore, before we all end up having to face Mecca five times a day, whether we wish it or no. Already the cities of western Europe have "no go zones" wherein immigrant communities essentially rule and conduct their affairs in accordance with their own indigenous traditions.

Worse yet, this defeatism underlies much of the nihilism and bitterness one encounters on the fringe right, including that nihilism and bitterness that can drive them to kill. As such, this is a more serious issue than it may at first appear. The manifestos of many an apparently deranged far right terrorist or mass shooter highlight this sense of impending civilizational doom. Feeling like there's nothing left to lose, domestic terrorists such as Anders Breivik and Brenton Tarrant go on murderous rampages bent on taking as many leftists and Muslims down with them as they can. As such, this is an issue of concern to us all. Now, before you all start barking, I should note that comparable motives such as disdain for the decadent materialism and sexual laxity of the west also underlie a lot of Jihadist militancy and terrorism.

What I want to propose, and what I will explore in further installments of this series is that while this pessimism is not entirely baseless, it's also far from being completely warranted.

Of course there are certain very real advantages that the left enjoys, especially at present and on cultural and social issues. Some of these advantages are "merely" temporal and institutional, such as dominance in mainstream media and academia. Others of these advantages are deeper and more fundamental to the way the progressive vs the reactionary political mind works on a deep level, and each side's views on and resulting forms of political activity.

However, the right wing also has and continues to have its own advantages, and I doubt that the victory of the progressive left in the culture war was ever certain and need not have even been likely. A different kind of right wing could have gotten a different kind of result. Moreover, there are presently very real areas of right wing ideological dominance, and for several decades, hegemony even. What this shows us is that rather than leftist victory being inevitable, both the left and right have been successful in those areas in which each has invested the greatest measure of importance, and thereby activist vigor.

Finally, I ask whether or not what has triumphed in the zeitgeist of the current year really does constitute leftism at all? Are the neoreactionaries correct in that equality, democracy, liberalism and socialism are essentially triumphant, and all that remains now is to watch this unsustainable faux egalitarianism bring about societal collapse? This is a highly questionable proposition. While social equality across certain lines; race, gender and sexuality especially, are currently vigorous and popular notions, in other ways we've never been more unequal and under the thumb of forces and institutions completely lacking in any kind of transparency or democratic legitimacy and accountability than we are now, and this has repercussions for the authenticity of such democracy and egalitarianism as we now have in the west.

Continued in part 2: The Hard Right

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Thursday, 11 July 2019

Egolitarianism - the Core Disease of the Left

But we did, Nathan. And that's precisely the problem.
In the unlikely event that Nathan J. Robinson of Current Affairs magazine and I were ever to sit down and discuss policy we'd like to see implemented, I'm sure we'd agree on a great deal. We Need to Revive the Fight for Overtime Pay, reads a July 9, 2019 headline. No argument here.  Doubtlessly Robinson is an advocate of universal single payer health care, preferably with basic dental and eye care included. Probably an advocate of renewed vigor in the union movement. Probably for ending neoconservative petrodollar warfare in the middle east. Probably for overturning Citizens United and getting money out of politics. You get the picture.

At times his enlightenment goes beyond that: Discipline, Strategy and Morality, or why beating up unarmed writers is a poor way to advance left-wing ideas… reads another article, regarding antifa's recent violent assault on right leaning author Andy Ngo. While Robinson has no kind words for Ngo, he rightly condemns antifa's assault on him: "The attack on Andy Ngo does not, to me, meet the criteria for justified violence. A Quillette writer with a GoPro is a nuisance. Punching him might be satisfying (to some, not me). But it is gratuitous and unjustified. It’s wrong. It does nothing helpful, and actually harms the cause of the left." Agreed, though to be fair and in the interests of equal time, it's worth pointing out that there are those who claim that Ngo is no innocent angel or martyr here either.

But I digress. As far as left wing pundits are concerned, expect good stuff from Nathan Robinson. Most of the time.

However, in a recent piece in Current Affairs, Don't Believe What They Tell You About the Left, he drops the ball, and does so in a manner that reveals the heart of what's wrong with so much leftism, both past and present. The article criticizes Intellectual Dark Web pundit Bret Weinstein for asserting that the left's ongoing demonization of white people will drive more and more of them to the embrace of white nationalism.
I am not naturally sympathetic to the “Black Studies made me become a Nazi” position. Partly this is because, as a straight white male myself (and a college Black Studies major), I have no idea what these guys are even talking about. I’ve never been told “fuck you for being a straight white man.” Nothing of the kind. The closest thing I’ve ever gotten is “perhaps as a straight white male you should exercise a bit of caution and restraint before loudly giving your opinion on matters that other people may have somewhat more personal experience with.” But when people insist they “won’t apologize for being white,” I still wonder who has been asking them, because nobody has ever asked me to do anything but show respect for marginalized people’s perspective and critically examine my own assumptions and advantages. Which seems a fairly modest ask. 
Robinson goes on to insist that there are no such voices on the left condemning white males categorically, and that these claims come exclusively from right wing sources. The article favorably quotes one Sam Adler Bell: "These people are not getting the message “everyone hates white straight males” from left wing media. They’re not watching left wing media!! It’s absurd. They’re getting that message from right wing media *interpreting* left wing media for them."

He then goes on to suggest: "Don’t get your understanding of left concepts from Prager University videos. Get them from books! Or from leftists. Go to a DSA meeting and meet some people and listen to what they have to say."

Okay. I like the idea of going to the source. Get your views on the left from right wing sources, and what you'll get is a telling glimpse of the private obsessions of the right wing mind. The vast majority of the time, these have little to do with the obsessions of the left. What you'll get instead is a Shapiroesque gish gallop or a Petersonian word salad, wherein you can count on one hand the number of inhalations the speaker takes before getting into the evils of communism, government intervention in the economy, the need for high income tax cuts and deregulation, one hundred million dead in the 20th century, and no small number of mentions of Venezuela and of course endless hosannas exalting endless private wealth accumulation and concentration. Whatever the Koch Bro's pay them to say, basically.

And that hasn't changed in decades now. Listen to the right wing on any format, and what you'll get is the clear sense that the western world reached its absolute satori around 1981 or so, when Maggie and Ronnie were slashing taxes, privatizing and deregulating left and right, and sticking it to the unions at home and the commies abroad. From there, what we have to look forward to is a millennium of glory, as outlined in the gospels of Rand, Mises, Friedman and Hayek. If this actually sounds pretty lame, that's because it is. An endless future of sweatshops, indebtedness and boom and bust cycles doesn't sound that exciting to me. Sorry guys.

Plus, I should hope that we're all smart enough not to be enticed into white nationalism, no matter how shrill and stupid the anti-white rhetoric on the left gets. Too wrongs don't make a right, after all. And let's especially give Adolf Hitler's resurgent fan club a pass. Let's not forget that he did start a war that got tens of millions of Europeans and white males killed, that devastated the nations of Europe and permanently ended their global hegemony. With friends like Adolf, white guys certainly don't need enemies. Fortunately, this groundswell of neo-fascist reaction against social justice culture doesn't seem to be a huge big thing. And no, Trumpism doesn't count. Neither does the Tea Party. Reactionary politics tap into impulses in the American (and European) body politic that are decades, centuries even, old. It reincarnates on a decade, maybe a generational cycle, but there's nothing here that hasn't been here in numerous different forms for ages now. So a surge white supremacism as a response to social justice excess isn't a thing, in any event.

So if you want to see what's going on on the left, check out leftist sources. Agreed, and the reverse is true. Don't just believe that Jordan Peterson is a Nazi and that Sam Harris is a genocidal neocon. See for yourself (said no leftist ever). Unfortunately for Nathan J. Robinson, doing precisely that actually damns his basic claim. Frustration with the left of the kind he's criticizing isn't coming from the Heritage Foundation or Liberty University. It comes from people like myself and many others who've had countless encounters with left wing people online and in real life and report having very similarly frustrating experiences. Common themes include:
  • Robinson has had good luck with leftists if the only anti white, anti male hatred he's encountered is strictly tongue in cheek, or hyperbolic expressions of frustration with white and male privilege. If such expressions abound, that should tell us something about the character of the left in the social media age, and that something isn't good. If expressions of hate for anyone (except the legitimately horrible; Hitler etc) have become acceptable on the left, that's a pretty clear indicator that we've lost the plot. Remember when we hated racism, not white people? When we hated sexism, not men? This was the cant on even the radical left as recently as the 1990s. If you don't think the left has a white hatred problem and a misandry problem, you're not paying attention to a host of sources: twitter, tumblr, a host of woke blogs, r/socialism, most of leftbook, a good portion of breadtube, most online feminism, etc etc. It takes a glaring dose of willful blindness not to see that the left has become about flagrant racial and gender partisanship. It shouldn't be.
  • Leftists are too often not direct and honest in conversation. One wonders if protest is the only way they actually have of communicating with other people. In encounters with ideological rivals, the tendency online is to post vague expressions of disapproval in a scolding and parental tone, intended to gaslight their target into assuming a purely rational, "what did I do wrong?" kind of stance. And then eat them alive. Another is a "whew boys, look at this" sort of post, followed by mocking laughter. This is the entire format of The Majority Report with Sam Seder on YouTube. You know, the channel with the cackling asshole in the background at all times. Chapo Trap House is largely about this as well. While satirizing the right is fun and easy, if that's all they do, one starts to come away from media like this with the impression that what leftists stand for is how smart, clever and funny they think they are. Are actual ideological and policy positions expressed on these shows? Or is it ALL gaslighting? I don't honestly know. We'd do well to learn from the brilliant Kyle Kulinski, who always lets you know exactly what this is - or should be - about policy wise.
  • Leftists have a love of sloganeering, thought stopping rhetorical tricks, witty portmanteaus and reciting, sometimes word for word, official dogmas. I've read the same copy-pasta, word for word, on gender related subjects I don't know how many times now. And as bad as the intersectional feminists are for this, they have nothing on the classical Marxist Leninists and (worst of all) the Maoists. Now these are a thankfully small minority on the left, but do show how we're not immune to the ills of flagrantly cult like thinking.
  • Closed ideological systems, which contain within themselves easy means to dismiss any and all criticism of themselves. Critics are simply white males defending their privilege, reactionary capitalist roaders, kulaks, etc. They all have a stake in the maintenance of the present "oppressive" system. That the cherished dogmas of the left, like Marxist Leninism once upon a time and intersectional feminism today, could be flawed (while still making some correct observations) is inconceivable.  
  • Related to this is a tendency to display "moral relativism in monstrous incarnation."  Which refers to the tendency of leftists to judge actions on the basis of the "classes" of people who perform them, or whether they belong to a "marginalized" vs a "privileged" group. Leftist hating of white males isn't really hatred because hatred is "power plus prejudice" and since feminists and minorities have no power (according to their own self referencing dogmas) they can't be bigots. Violent actions visited upon the kulaks or other enemies of the people are okay. Kto Kovo, right? 
  • Frequent expression, or at least implication, of truly bizarre and extreme views. Consider, for instance, the occasionally cited Schrödinger's Rapist, which implies that all women everywhere should at all times avoid all men, because they have no way of knowing which men are the rapists and which are not. This has clearly not been thought through, and doesn't reflect the way that virtually all progressives and feminists live their lives in the real world. Gee, I wonder why? Yet even if such ideas are not meant to be taken at face value, what does their popularity among leftists and feminists say about their underlying mindset? Most of them may not all really hate all men and white people, but their doctrines certainly open the door to legitimizing such hatred, and anti white male exacerbation is a recurring motif in leftist spaces in a way that would not be tolerated (and rightly so) were the racial and gender identities switched. Are we to believe that only white males have flaws in their character that require self reflection and repentance? At what point do "power" and "privilege" simply become legitimizing rationalizations for why it's okay when the left's charmed circle of preferred identities hate?  I guess the idea that we should not be discriminated against based on our race or gender isn't really the idea after all. This all says something, whether the Nathan J. Robinsons of this world want it to or not. If men, white men especially, are put off by this ongoing pandering to female moral vanity, can we really blame them?
  • Fragility. Put up serious arguments against leftist dogmas, and watch their adherents fall to pieces, or go into full on attack mode. You've caused them personal injury, and they're damn well going to let you - or your employers or people you do business with - know it. They sure the hell let Andy Ngo know it, among others. Of course, they're the first to accuse their opponents of likewise being fragile, with "white fragility" being a common thought stopping slogan among critical race theorists to denounce the tendency among whites to dislike being held collectively responsible for historical mistreatment of minorities. 
I should like to point out that I, and many others, were not told about any of the above second hand by Bret Weinstein or Dave Rubin. We weren't all good, dutiful socialists until Stefan Molyneux or Carl Benjamin somehow brainwashed us into falsely believing all of this. They are experiences that I and countless others, including some of these very "right wing" YouTubers have had, and they aren't isolated occurrences. They are the rule and not the exception, I'm afraid.

And I hate to say all of this, because I am a leftist at heart. I don't even completely disagree with the tenets of today's left: intersectionality and so on. Robinson is right in that we'd do well to listen to those with more experience with particular kinds of discrimination, and not be so quick to get defensive. The problem is the weaponization of intersectionality and the inflation of standpoint theory into claims for full blown infallibility. Plus, we can reasonably question just who the intersectional ideologues are speaking for, and how repesentative professional journalists and academics really are of the downtrodden and marginalized? We're not stupid, Nathan. We know when these ideas are being manipulated so as to establish social dominance. We've been through it with hip, politically correct ideologues time and time again, and the fact our frustration with it gets chalked up to the "alt right" simply compounds the problem.

Where Robinson gives himself, and the mainstream left away, however, is in this pair of quotes:
I am not naturally sympathetic to the “Black Studies made me become a Nazi” position. Partly this is because, as a straight white male myself (and a college Black Studies major), I have no idea what these guys are even talking about. I’ve never been told “fuck you for being a straight white man.” Nothing of the kind.
 One of my colleagues, for instance, has a tendency to joke that all men should be fired into the sun. (At least, I believe she is joking.) Men sometimes email to complain, saying they do not feel “welcomed” into the left and that these jokes are hurtful because they imply that all men are bad. I am not very sympathetic to the men who write these notes, because I am of their gender and I do not feel wounded about remarks advising that men be fired into the sun.
In short, Nathan J. Robinson has not himself ever been told to fuck off for being a straight white man, so we're to assume that never happens. Nathan J. Robinson himself doesn't feel wounded by remarks advising that men be fired into the sun. Therefore, such remarks are well and good.

Well, I hate to have to say this, Nathan, but it isn't all about you. Maybe, just maybe, it's not wise for leftists to countenance white male bashing in their ranks because doing so drives away a huge potential base for support. Support the left needs to actually win elections, take power and actually implement policy that can really help poor and marginalized minorities. Maybe that support and the politics it can achieve is more important to the broader cause than professional educated professional activists getting to be right and dumb rightists being wrong about a cherished point of dogma, such as 'power plus prejudice' or of the ego stroking satisfaction of displaying their unbound feminist wittiness in the face of yet another neanderthal male.

But many leftists will never consider this, and thus the core of the problem on the left reveals itself, and why self reflection (except a vain sort of self criticism of one's own ideological shortcomings, itself a very totalitarian and cultish concept) seems never to be on the table with most leftists:

The left has an egocentrism problem.

Too many leftists are caught up in a kind of narcissism wherein their projected self-concepts as warriors fighting on behalf of the underdog (the precise origin of the derisive use of the phrase social justice warrior) must be shielded at all times from any kind of doubt or criticism. Thus, their reactions to disagreement are always ones of emotionalism, hostility and defensiveness. Never due consideration of what their opponents actually have to say, even if the end result of such consideration would reveal the critics being incorrect and the left's position vindicated by the facts. One gets the sense that, like the religious fundamentalist, many leftists demand blind faith, and the very notion of fact checking thus offends them. To doubt is to be racist, misogynist etc.

It's so much easier just to handwave any and all dissent as the shrill hysteria of this or that right wing pundit, and maybe even call for their deplatforming, milkshaking or the like. So much easier than meeting the challenge head on. The bubble of self satisfaction doesn't get burst that way. Not to say that right wing pundits on YouTube or elsewhere are correct in their own world views. The right has its own problems. However, the lack of self awareness among so many on the left is simply breathtaking.

Perhaps this is why most of the intellectual and activist vigor on the left is poured into digging in their heels over metapolitical dogmas aimed at asserting a kind of ideological infallibility: standpoint theory, power plus prejudice, white male fragility, dissension from feminist and race theory equating to racist and sexist oppression, "hate" speech as a form of actual violence (justifying censorship). As opposed to fighting the good fight for actual policies that will help real people in the real world: universal health care, free education, a living wage, ending petrodollar warfare, a new new deal,  getting money out of politics and so on.

Witty leftists so love their portmanteaus, so I have one of my own: too many leftists are egolitarians. Its meaning should be obvious. So if you are reading this, Nathan J. Robinson, or whoever else on the left who's reading this, let's work at not being egolitarian. Let's make this about the policies we all know we need, that Kyle Kulinski and Bernie Sanders so love to repeat so often. I'm not calling for perfection, purity testing or vigorous tone policing. Rather, let's try to make this about ourselves and our self concepts a little less and about achieving good political results for the most needy and the most marginalized a little more, if we could?

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